Dreese to serve up to four years in granddaughter's death
SUNBURY - Despite showing remorse and "throwing herself at the mercy of the court," Bertha Dreese was sentenced Thursday afternoon to 16 months to 4 years in a state correctional institution in connection with the Oct. 16, 2010, hyperthermia death of her 1-year-old granddaughter.
Northumberland County President Judge Robert B. Sacavage imposed the sentence on the felony offense of involuntary manslaughter. The 65-year-old Dreese, who was given credit for five days previously served in county prison, also was ordered to pay a $500 fine, costs and fees and was prohibited from caring for or supervising any children under the age of 18.
Dreese, who was released from the county jail Aug. 30 after posting $50,000 cash bail, was returned to prison after Sacavage denied a request by defense attorney James Best to allow her to remain free through an appeals process.
The defendant was found guilty by Sacavage on Aug. 27 of involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanors of recklessly endangering another person and endangering the welfare of children. The latter two charges merged for sentencing purposes.
Dreese could have received a maximum of 10 years imprisonment for involuntary manslaughter.
She was found guilty of not checking on her granddaughter, Anela Naloni Loner, who laid in a crib in an upstairs bedroom for 19 hours with a space heater activated at 43 S. Seventh St., Sunbury, where her parents, Lopaka Loner and Heidi Yocum, and two older siblings resided. Yocum is Dreese's daughter.
Sacavage said Dreese committed a crime of gross neglect. He told Dreese, "You showed an extreme disregard for the care and supervision of a child who died a slow, gross death in a room that reached 97 degrees at one point. The hideous outcome was caused by your omission."
The judge said testimony presented at Dreese's trial convinced him to reach his guilty verdict on all three charges, while the defendant's testimony contradicted her previous statements given to police.
Best argued for a lighter sentence due to the defendant's age and the traumatic effect her granddaughter's death had on her. He said Dreese didn't have any malice in her failure to act.
Dreese, who resides in Shamokin Dam, apologized for not checking on her granddaughter and broke down crying while calling the infant's death "awful and tragic."
She told Sacavage, "Please understand that I'm not a murderer. I loved that child. I throw myself at the mercy of the court."
Upon being escorted from the courtroom by deputy sheriffs following the sentencing, Dreese told a newspaper reporter, "I'll go to my dying day saying that Lopaka (Loner) and Heidi (Yocum) lied."
First Assistant District Attorney Ann Targonski, who prosecuted the case, said, "I feel the sentence is appropriate for her gross neglect and reckless conduct in caring for Anela."
Best added, "I respect the court's decision. But I don't think the sentence will accomplish any public good because this was an unintentional act. Mrs. Dreese is very remorseful."
Earlier this year, Dreese withdrew her guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter. She reportedly changed her mind on the plea because of the 1- to 5-year state prison sentence imposed on Yocum by Judge Charles H. Saylor. Yocum, 30, was expecting to be placed on probation after pleading guilty to recklessly endangering a child.
Yocum is incarcerated at SCI-Cambridge Springs in Crawford County.
On Nov. 19, the 29-year-old Loner was sentenced by Sacavage to 11 1/2 to 23 months in Northumberland County Prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanors of endangering the welfare of children and recklessly endangering another person. He has since been transferred to Lycoming County Prison in Williamsport.
Yocum and Loner, who both testified at Dreese's trial, also were accused of not checking on the baby throughout the day and not providing any food or water to the infant.